2 Iraqi commanders in charge of Basra mission recalled to Baghdad
The top two Iraqi security commanders in Basra who led last month’s operation that was widely criticized as badly planned and executed have been recalled to Baghdad, Iraqi officials said Wednesday.
Lt. Gen. Mohan al-Fireji led the Iraqi army’s operations in the city, and Gen. Jaleel Khalaf led the Iraqi police in the assault. Both were called back to Baghdad to serve in high-level positions they had previously held at the Ministry of Defense. Iraqi officials said the move was not a demotion or related to the Basra offensive.
“Both these commanders were in Basra for temporary missions,” a statement from the Iraqi Defense Ministry said.
Khalaf and a Defense Ministry spokesman named Mohammed Askari were quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying the two commanders’ positions were temporary and were being renewed every three months.
But, the offensive — personally overseen by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — has been roundly criticized by U.S. military and political officials.
In testimony before Congress last week, Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said the Basra mission was poorly planned. The Iraqi operation was launched with little notice to U.S. or British forces, who have provided the Iraqis with support, intelligence and “tactical overwatch.”
Earlier this week, the Iraqi government fired more than 1,000 soldiers and police who either deserted during the fighting, changed sides or didn’t show up for the fight, which began March 25.
Fighting continues in the city, a stronghold of Shiite militias. On Wednesday night, there were sporadic clashes between gunmen and Iraqi forces, while U.S. aircraft conducted airstrikes.
According to a U.S. military statement, a Predator unmanned aerial vehicle fired two Hellfire missiles, killing four suspected militia members.
In the interview with the Times, Khalaf defended his and Fireji’s work in Basra.
“We feel we have fulfilled our jobs and worked to build the pillars of security,” Khalaf was quoted as saying. “I think our mission … is done, and we have done it very well.”
According to U.S. military news releases, American Special Forces and other trainers are “embedded” with Iraqi security forces in Basra.